Look in your handbag or backpack, and it’s likely you’re toting round a reusable water bottle or coffee cup. But while many of us are trying to cut down on single-use plastics by taking responsibility for the way we consume water or coffee, there’s another regularly-consumed British staple that is causing serious environmental damage.
Crisps are largely packaged in packets that are not recyclable. And, with 90% of British people regularly eating the snacks according to Mintel, that makes for billions of packets being chucked away every year and heading for landfill or the world’s oceans.
It is time for crisp manufacturers to step up alongside manufacturers of all plastics, Mary Creagh, a Labour MP and chair of the environment committee, told HuffPost. “I think they’re going to have to look at a fundamental redesign of their products and look at more sustainable alternatives,” she said.
Just a fraction of the 3.7 million tonnes of plastic products we buy in the UK can be recycled. A recent focus has been takeaway coffee cups, which are almost impossible to recycle unless taken to a specialist plant. But attention is also turning to crisp packets.
Greenpeace ocean campaigner Fiona Nicholls told HuffPost UK that consumers “should be able to enjoy a bag of crisps without having to worry about the wrapper ending up buried, burned or floating in our oceans”.
She said: “Given the level of public concern about plastic waste, this is another industry which should start looking into reducing the amount of plastics they produce, invest in alternative packaging and put itself ahead of the curve.”
Earlier this year, 240,000 people signed a petition calling on Walkers – the UK’s leading crisp brand which sells 10 million packets a day – and other brands, to make a change.
“We call upon Walkers and other manufacturers to change the materials for their packets to one which is recyclable or even more preferably a non-plastic environmentally friendly material,” the petition author wrote. He claimed that crisp packets had been found intact, 33 years after being thrown away.
“With a truckload of plastic waste entering our oceans every minute, we simply can’t afford to have so much single-use plastic around. The only dustbin it should end up in is history’s.””
But crisp manufacturers are not alone in needing to face challenges, says Creagh. “I think what we need to be looking at is the whole area of food packaging,” she said.
“Rather than looking at is from a crisps versus cotton buds, versus stirrers versus cucumber shrink wrap, you’ve got to look at what is what is the value of it - which is keeping the food fresh for longer (and yes that’s a good thing), and then what is the best design to ensure that happens in an eco-friendly way.”
Plastic bags, tissues, straws, hand soap dispensers and used pizza boxes are all on the list of things that end up in landfill, according to the British Science Association.
“With a truckload of plastic waste entering our oceans every minute, we simply can’t afford to have so much single-use plastic around. The only dustbin it should end up in is history’s,” said Greenpeace’s Fiona Nicholls.
A spokesperson for PepsiCo, which owns Walkers, told HuffPost the company was signed up a number of industry groups aimed at tackling the problem of plastic pollution, including the UK Plastics Pact and New Plastics Economy initiatives.
The spokesperson said: “PepsiCo is working tirelessly to tackle waste challenges, allocating significant resources and attention to this important issue. We have committed to 100% recyclable, compostable or biodegradable packaging across our product portfolio by 2025, and are collaborating with leaders in this space to bring the latest packaging advances to our products. We already have a pilot of compostable bags in one of our markets and are optimistic we will be able to expand its rollout wider in the future.”